Friday, April 27, 2012

Vanderbilly, International

There is an international ‘city’ that hosts an incredible music scene. Everywhere you turn in this place you can hear rock, blues, country, heavy metal, folk, classical – just about every kind of guitar music known to man. One of the great things about this place is the free guitar lessons. You can find lessons on how to play songs, lead guitar parts, theory, and much more. There are lessons for any level of guitar player – it doesn’t matter if you are just starting out, or if you have played for years and are just looking to broaden your guitar knowledge.

Unfortunately, most of us can’t take the time to travel to some far away city to enjoy such a scene. Most of us are pretty much stuck in our own geographical location. It just isn’t practical to travel hundreds or thousands of miles to take guitar lessons.

What if you live in an area where there are no guitar teachers?
What if you simply can’t afford guitar lessons?
What if the only time you can take a lesson is in the middle of the night, at a time when no guitar teacher would be willing to schedule a lesson?

What if there was a way to eliminate all of these problems?

There is. This ‘city’ isn’t in any geographical location – it exists only in the virtual sense. The ‘city’ is the guitar oriented website ‘’. Located at… well, it’s located wherever you are. Nowhere else on the planet can you find such a variety of instruction along with musical entertainment – and not pay a cent for it. It’s a little like a time long ago, when doctors made house calls.

Are you looking for a lesson on how to play ‘Sliding Sixths Intervals’, or the acoustic part for John Denver’s ‘The Eagle and the Hawk’? How about Jimmy Pages’ lead break for ‘Stairway To Heaven’ – either the studio or the live versions? Do you need a lesson on practice routines, a blues study in A13, how to play diminished chords, or the pentatonic box? Are you looking for information on the difference between Ionian, Dorian, Mixolydian, and Aeolian scales?

You will find all of these things at They are available to you any time, anywhere. You can take a lesson at 3 am if you choose; you can takes lessons whether you live in New York City, on a farm in Iowa, in rural England, or in the middle of the Pacific Ocean – as long as you have an Internet connection.

They are here, and they are free.

Since began in 2007, thousands of videos have been posted in what is known as the Vanderbilly Video Vault. Some of the videos are performance, but most are instructional. No matter if you are simply looking to learn the chords to an easy song, or some advanced theory on scales and modes – this is the place to go.

If, by chance, the lesson you’re looking for isn’t there then all you have to do is ask.

What? They take requests?

Just ask. Sometimes the turnaround time for a requested video is just a few days. Surely they charge extra for such a service? Did we mention that everything – everything- on this site is free? The lessons, and even advice are available for the asking.

Vanderbilly, (aka ‘VB’ for short) represents a tremendous range of guitar styles and genres of music. The men and women who make these lesson videos give their own time and effort to provide these lessons free to anyone who needs them.

Some of the contributors to video lessons on have played in bands for many years, such as Mike (Sixstring63); or taught guitar lessons like Joe Hojnacki (gtrjoe), and Bruce L (Brujaylin). Some, like Gary Eversole (Bigg), only recently began playing guitar, and have not played in a band or taught lessons in the traditional way. Regardless of where they came from in their guitar playing life, these people all have something to contribute in the way of lessons.

Some of these men or women are self-taught, while others took some form of lessons along the way.

“I'm self-taught,” said Tom Minet. “I learned to play as a teenager. I had a girlfriend who was into some really good music and she had this old nylon string hanging around, so I'd pick it up and start figuring things out. Later I got the Mel Bay books, which were just great. I remember when I got the one with the pentatonic in it; I used to study it constantly! I probably should have spent more time studying for my classes.”

It is fortunate for us that Tom didn’t spend so much time studying for school. His 150 some instructional videos have taught songs and theory to countless grateful guitar players.

John Eriks (Tugwell), describes himself as a: “Self taught player; never had a professional lesson. I like to call myself an ‘advanced beginner’.”

Those who have enjoyed John’s 286 videos consider him to be considerably more than an ‘advanced beginner.’ Tug continues to be a popular ‘instructor’ at VB.

“I took 6 months of lessons to learn basics and never quit playing and learning”, said Joe Hojnacki, the most prolific VB instructional video producer, with the startling total of 592 videos at the time of this writing. Joe’s videos average about fifteen thousand views – each. That translates to well over 8 million total views.

Joe’s lessons are so well received that he was contacted by Clear Lake Historical Productions; a company that is making a documentary film about songwriter Doc Pomus, and his guitar player Mort Shuman. Clear Lake wants to use part of Joe’s instructional video on Elvis Presley’s ‘Little Sister’ to demonstrate how Shuman may have come up with the guitar riff for the song.

“For a guy with no timing, little natural talent & who's hacked his way on guitar for three decades plus,” said Joe. “I am damn proud of this and I'll let everyone know how it turns out. My intentions have always been to help others to not struggle as I did starting out, trying to learn guitar. I can't tell you how many people cannot believe I don't make any money for doing this - but sometimes it’s not about the gain - it's for the good.”

That is as clear as it gets as an outline for what is all about. I don’t know if Joe has given this any thought, but if he charged just one dollar per video view… 8 million views.

Gary Eversole (Bigg) started playing guitar in the past few years. “My best friend was a super player and I helped with the tear down and set up at his gigs for 10 years. He would show me things on guitar and encourage me to play. But I never had the desire to play when I was young. My desire came when I was 55 years old, but only as a hobby.”

Gary’s ‘hobby’ has led to more than 130 excellent instructional videos. Many of Gary’s videos are blues studies in various keys – work that has proven to be quite popular among VB viewers.

Bruce L. describes his early guitar experience: “Self taught with an encounter with a jazz guitarist many years ago.”

Bruce is a master of many styles, including 1960’s surf guitar, with videos on songs by The Surfaris, Dick Dale, The Chantays, The Ventures, and more. He can switch effortlessly from Freddie King or Robin Trower style blues, to ZZ Top, and much more.

If you are thinking, ‘what can people who are self taught, or have not been playing for 30 years teach me about the guitar’, then you should watch a few of their instructional videos. The interesting thing about guitar is that even the most experienced player can learn something from a video made by a much less experienced guitarist.

Mike (SixString63) is one of the most experienced guitarists on the site. He offers lessons on speed techniques and other areas of instruction.

“[I] started out learning from books around 11 years old. Then lessons from my cousin who is a country picker at the age of 14 or so. At 18 I took lessons from an amazing rock/fusion guy who taught me most of what I play today.”

Mike is a master of the blazing fast blues runs with an exceptional vibrato and bending style. This guy can play anything – single note, double stops, slide, electric, and acoustic. He makes it look effortless, and his playing is always virtually flawless. Watch Mike’s videos and you have to shake your head and wonder ‘how does he do that?’ Mike also happens to be a first rate electronics guy – he modifies guitar pedals, and makes his own hand-wound pickups.

The man known on VB as Traynor333 also described himself as self-taught.

“I had developed a good rhythm guitar technique and had learned a host of songs before I took about a year worth of lessons to learn lead guitar. At the time I didn't understand much, but over time I've recalled many of the points he tried to show me and have incorporated many of them into my playing.”

Traynor is also the master of many styles, electric and acoustic. He has made more than 160 instructional videos, garnering praise for his work.

Lesson contributors have different reasons for doing these videos.

“Most of my lessons are in response to requests,” said Tom Minet. “More often than not, the request is for a song I don't know how to play - and often have never heard of! When something pops up in the request section I give the song a listen, usually with a guitar in my hands, and if I think I can figure it out, I say ‘yes.’ My favorites are the cases where someone says ‘I've looked all over the net and there are no tabs and no lessons.’ That is my meat!”

John Eriks told me: “What prompts me to do a lesson is learning and then teaching a song that I either grew up with listening to and get such a kick out of being able to play it, or a newer one that I enjoy listening to. Or seeing a request for something I like also. Like I just did the Stones ‘Loving Cup’ from the request page.”

Ken Leber didn’t start off on guitar. He learned: “By being in a band years ago as a drummer surrounded by guitar players. I taught them how to play the drums. They taught me guitar. Then I just continued from there.”

For a non-musician, that might not make sense, but a musician understands that comment perfectly. Ken has made more than 230 videos for His guitar work is always precise and clean; played with passion and feeling that clearly comes through to the viewer. 

The beauty of what the many contributors do is the stunning variety of musical styles. Virtually anything that you may be looking for is likely to be available in the Video Vault. Whether you just browse or search for something specific, you can’t help but be amazed at the wealth of information available at the click of a mouse.

As mentioned, none of these contributors makes a dime off of these lesson videos. It should be noted that while it may only take you five minutes to watch a lesson video, it may take hours for the contributor to complete it. The investment of the time and effort required to make such a video speaks volumes as to the level of commitment made by these people.

Why do they do it? Why spend so much time and effort to produce a video guitar lesson?

“I get a lot out of doing these lessons,” said Tom. “For one thing, I'm usually learning a song I didn't know. And, inevitably, I'm sharpening my listening skills and my playing skills as I do it - so from a completely selfish perspective, I get a lot out of it. But, of course, the most important part is helping someone play a song they've wanted to learn.”

“The experience I get is a feeling of being able to share a great tune with another member, I've always said that if at least one person gets something out of it then it was worth it. And I just find it to be a great hobby.

It’s hard to believe that there is an entire community of people who so selflessly give of their time and knowledge. That’s part of what makes a great place to hang out.

Joe: “I get to learn songs I always wanted to learn and satisfaction of helping others. I enjoy the interaction that comes from comments about how the lessons help others learn guitar.”

Gary gets “The satisfaction of sharing musical knowledge and talking music with people from various places in the world. Also personal improvement on the guitar.”

Bruce L. describes it as a: “Great way to share with the world.”

Most of the time I pick songs I've always wanted to learn that are within my abilities to play, or above my abilities to play,” said Traynor. “I've especially gravitated towards the latter as I enjoy the challenge of learning something quite difficult to play.”

“Sometimes it is something I want to share from a playing standpoint or just a request other times,” said Mike.

Gary Eversole: “Doctor Rocker [one of the most popular Vanderbilly contributors] asked me to share lessons on songs I liked and wished to share. I didn't think I played well enough to make a good lesson. Doc said, ‘There are no bad lessons, just go for it.’”

Traynor: “Apart from learning the song, I've found that my playing has significantly improved over time. A number of artists that I listen to have remarked that if you want to get good at the guitar, learn things as close to note for note as you can. It will have a real impact on your playing. It does.”

These guys are by no means the only contributors on Dozens of people post lessons, adding to the wealth of guitar and music knowledge available on the site.

Feedback received from their lesson videos is generally positive. Part of the reason why there are so many videos posted on is the friendlier atmosphere than is often found on YouTube.

The responses here are much nicer than some of the ones on YouTube!” said Tom Minet. “Probably my favorite response is when someone says, ‘I needed to learn that song for a gig and now I can play it.’ Or when people say, ‘I've wanted to learn that all my life.’ But the most helpful responses are when people say something like, ‘that's great, but try playing the A chord in the fifth position with the A string open.’ When we're learning a song, we're really learning it as a group. Since I'm usually figuring out the songs as I go along, I certainly don't have all the answers.”

He may not have all the answers, but he and his colleagues provide the rest of us with valuable information.

John Eriks (Tugwell): “I'm very fortunate to get favorable responses, but the thing that is great about VB is if something isn't quite right in the lesson I'll get a private message from someone ‘suggesting’ it may have been better doing it this way or that. Never get someone ‘blasting’ a lesson.  VB is such a friendly place.”

That is part of the reason why the VB community thrives. Anyone who has posted a video on YouTube is aware that people will make negative comments just because they can. The positives are often overlooked on YouTube – the opposite of what happens on Vanderbilly.

Traynor gave me two reasons why he does lesson videos.

“Primarily because it makes it available to others, for free. Too many people try to make a buck off everything they post, and frankly, a lot of them are just not worth paying for. Secondly, I've found that in learning a song, you learn more when you attempt to teach it than you would have if you would just play the song yourself. You learn a lot about some of the theory, scales, and chords that are used, and you really have to pay attention to your playing when you teach the lesson. Everyone has the opportunity to watch your video for the rest of time, so it's important to be able to play it very well.”

“It makes me feel good if I can pass my knowledge on to others and help them out, said Mike. “Can't take it with you so you might as well share it.”

Ken Leber seeks to share his knowledge: “Because when I was young everybody kept it to themselves. If you learned ‘tricks’ you kept them. Same as the trades, years ago – a social fabric thing. By sharing what I know it makes me feel good that someone might have a light bulb moment where they can play something they were not able to before. As well as encouragement to those losing interest in developing the skill.”

Joe: “I feel I'm helping others learn guitar; since I didn't have this medium as I was learning - it's my way of helping those that do. I've been with VB since the beginning and have grown as a guitarist in addition to being able to help others. It's really become a hobby of sorts and a good way to continue to play at an age where I don't really care to be in bands.”

That seems to be the prevailing attitude among Vanderbilly contributors – sharing knowledge freely. That is also an interesting point made by Joe – the fact that the Internet offers virtually unlimited possibilities for trading and sharing of knowledge and skills. Many of us, like Joe, Mike, and others, learned to play guitar long before it was possible to ‘go online’ and find this information. As mentioned above, for those not fortunate to live in an area in which guitar lessons were available, it was up to us to figure out how to play the instrument.

The beauty of is the sense of community, even though it exists primarily in a virtual sense. Some Vanderbilly members have managed to get together to jam and talk all things guitar, but the majority of members continue to communicate through the site’s forum and through videos posted in the Video Vault.

Tom: “Like I said above, I feel that Vanderbilly is a real learning community. It's not a contest and it's not an ego trip; it's about learning from each other. Just as an example, I recently did a lesson on sixth intervals that dipped a little bit into theory, and one of our members responded with a great post on all the hows and whys of intervals. I learned more from him than others did from me!”

Ken Leber: “This is a life skill that has no language and most of the time no politics attached. I have been lucky to have traveled many places in the world with my guitar and made many friends just out back playing under the moonlight or in someone's beautiful home or for that matter I've played in a Nip-pa hut in the Philippines. I did not understand the language nor they mine. But we all understand smiles and applause.”

Well stated, Ken.

I like to think that I've made a small contribution to the VB community,” said Traynor; “in thanks for all the stuff that I've learned from others. Kind of paying back for what I've taken out.”

People like Traynor have made much more than a ‘small contribution’. Their videos add enormously to the collective knowledge of the guitar and guitar music for all of the thousands of members of Such knowledge makes it easier for people to sit in the moonlight and play, or to communicate through the language of music, smiles, and applause as Ken Leber so eloquently put it.

The best part of it is that all of this is available worldwide, at

© 2012 LTM


  1. Really enjoyed reading this. Sounds like a great place to visit. Think I'll check it out right now :)

  2. Great job on this article larry.
    Really enjoyed it !!

  3. Thanks for the post really like it..Great Job..